The idea for turning my classroom into a miniature city started when I was doing my internship in a second grade classroom in Michigan. There, my mentor teacher combined her name with mine, and we spent the year teaching in Ebertine Village. We had a class economy and village ordinances, and despite the occasional parent upset that we were indoctrinating seven-year-olds with capitalist ideology, life was good. But finishing up my teacher ed program and getting my own fifth grade classroom in an Atlanta suburb meant that I wouldn't have a partner-in-teaching anymore. I needed to come up with my own classroom management scheme. Hence, Eberopolis was born.
(It seemed unlikely that a town would be named after me in any other context, much less a sprawling metropolis, so it was really win-win.)
On the first day of school, newly inducted citizens of Eberopolis take part in drafting a class constitution. It's one of my favorite activities because it gives me so much insight into the type of class I'm going to have. Contrast, for example, one class that proposed and passed a provision for 30 minutes of independent reading time each day versus the class that wanted the same amount in recess time. I intervene when necessary (sorry kids...school board says no recess for you...another blog topic for another day...), but for the most part, all of the rules in the class constitution belong to the students. I've found this strategy very effective. By the time students are in fifth grade (and I'm sure it's even true for younger kids), they already have a good sense of what they're looking for in a class. They know what works and what doesn't, and while I could speed things up and post a standard set of rules that stays on the same bulletin board each year, it's important to me that I show my students from day #1 that this is their classroom and I trust them to act responsibly and make good decisions to help their learning. Sometimes we realize that we've left something out or an issue isn't handled well by our class constitution, in which case we make amendments as needed, but overall, the constitutions drafted at the beginning of the year work quite well.
Eberopolis also has class jobs and a class economy. Each student is assigned a job, and the jobs rotate every week. For example, one person sharpens pencils (the lumberjack), another person handles the morning lunch count (the caterer), two students wash tables in the lunchroom (sanitation engineers), one person dispenses hand sanitizer (the microbiologist), and so on. I try to come up with jobs for each student, but it can be a challenge when I have a large class. Last year, I had to create an unemployment section on the job bulletin board because I had 28 students and not enough jobs. When one student rotated into that spot from another classroom job, I overheard her say "Well, Obama said it would take some time to turn this economy around," and she shrugged and walked back to her seat. (Reason #783 why I love my job!) The students (employed or otherwise) earn a salary each week (am I teaching a welfare system, too? hmmm...), and they have opportunities to earn bonuses by doing good deeds or completing extra assignments. They can also be fined, however, for failing to complete homework assignments or turning them in late, "speeding" in the halls, "loitering" in the bathrooms, "disturbing the peace" or disrespecting materials or other citizens. At the end of the week, the students balance their accounts to see how much money they've earned (I've created my own currency) and they reflect on what they've done well and ways they can improve next week. Every couple of weeks, we open up the Eberopolis General Store for students to spend their earnings. I generally keep it stocked with snacks, books (from extra Scholastic points or bonus offers), homework passes, school supplies, fun items (usually from the dollar store or Oriental Trading), and whatever else I'm able to get donated from parents or members of the community. Some of the items are intentionally priced high so that students will learn to save toward a goal, but there's typically a good mix of items. The students really look forward to having it, and it's fairly inexpensive to maintain. The expense is worth it to me to have the class run well, and it usually does.
So why I am telling you about Eberopolis? A couple of reasons. First, I'm not in a classroom this year, and I really miss it. My husband took a one year internship a few hours away from Atlanta, and rather than spend a year driving back and forth to be together on the weekends, I packed up my classroom (many, many, many boxes...how did I manage to acquire so much in three years?!?) and went with him. It was a different state, and since it was only for a year, I decided to take the year off and finish my master's degree. The second reason - and this is the big one - is that I'm really interested in sharing some of my own experiences in the classroom with other people interested in the work that teachers do. I have lots of ideas and opinions about oh-so-many teaching and education related topics, and I decided that maybe it's time that I put some of those out there for others to read. Even though teachers spend their days working with dozens of students, it can be a really lonely job. I'm hoping that by expanding Eberopolis to the online world, I can have more opportunities for discussion and friendly debate with others. Whether you're a teacher, a parent, an administrator, a politician, or just a curious individual, I welcome you to Eberopolis. I hope that we can have a positive and productive learning experience together.